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The way we lived. 40. (Part 3) My time at a Revolutionary High School – Livingstone 1963.

Updated: May 30, 2023

Part 3. 1963 – heading toward my Senior Certificate.
April 1963. Ninety-day Detention Law allowed imprisonment for ninety days without access to a lawyer. 180 days followed before indefinite detention under the Terrorism Act.
1963. Transkei becomes a self-governing Bantustan; “independence” followed later in 1976.
May 1963. MK and POQO banned. Both movements then go underground.
The PAC leader, Robert Sobukwe, detained indefinitely in solitary confinement on Robben Island under the “Sobukwe Clause”. (Were his pan-Africanist ideas that dangerous even in prison?)
October 1963. Rivonia trial of Nelson Mandela and other ANC activists begins.


Only matric-level girls could wear boaters when they were first introduced that year – are they still worn these days? I am in the back row with Messrs Wessels and Dudley. Mr Arendse is immediately in front of us; leading the pack is Mr Murison. Girls comprised about 25 per cent or less of most senior classes in those days. How much higher is it today?
Despite the events that swirled around us, my last two years at LHS were enjoyable and interesting. My favourite teachers were Duds and Vicky. I did not see Alie as an excellent teacher the way other students did. My Dad was a disciplinarian at school and at home, where I was often at loggerheads with him. I was pleased when he was away at TLSA or NEUM conferences most school holidays so that I could do my thing within the looser boundaries set by my mother, although her rules also had to be obeyed, or else …
An end-of-JC party at Jeremy Davidson’s was the start of teenage parties with the music of Chubby Checker, the Beatles and Shadows, whose tunes we air-guitared and drummed away in the waiting room on Claremont station after school. Some students had to catch trains, others waited for their girlfriends from South Peninsula High School.


Michael Geduld, captain of the LHS team, convinced me to switch from soccer to rugby. In the team photo, he is third from the right, middle row with Vernon Rustin on his right. Vernon was a star centre; John Osterwaal at the end of the row was a front row stalwart, often in a punch-up with the opposition front row forwards. The other two in my 10A class were Kenny Coetsee, second from right in the back row, and scrum half Gakkie aka Gekko aka Ishaak Abrahams, who is third in the front row from the right. In the back row I’m wedged between two or three Coenraads (I suspect every team in those days had a Coenraad or two in the team). Sharky is to my right. Initially, we were a ragtag team with a patchwork of tops. I played in an old knitted jersey which was ripped in two in a tackle one day. Our new PE teacher, Mr Birch organised to get us jerseys – royal blue with yellow collars and, with his coaching, we went from a losing team to one which won every match for the rest of the season. Are the team colours the same?
The team photo has Mr Newman on the right. What are you doing out there on the left, Joe Motiki? Assistant coach, maybe? Joe was the school’s star distance runner and gymnast.
I played barefoot until I lost the nails of my big toes in the cold of Paarl on a field surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I only noticed the injury in the warm shower after the match. I always wore boots after that! As a loose forward, I scored a try in most games. I still love rugby to this day – go All Blacks, despite their recent setbacks!
Part of the joy on those school trips was the bus ride home as we had the school netball team with us – it goes without saying that whatever happened on the bus stayed there, sort of.
Add my first steady girlfriend into this time, and LHS’s moments were special. Of course, I bunked (wagged, down under) mostly to go to the movies or Clovelly tidal pool in summer. The relatively quiet pool is where I taught myself to swim. It became my favourite place for an outing with girlfriends over the years. I’m sure it was for Whites only, but I do not recall any separatist signs there – a City Council oversight maybe?
Inter-house athletics sports started for the first time due to LHS boycotting the inter-schools sports for a few years. It seems it was over an issue of providing birth certificates – others will have to come to my rescue here. I must say I preferred inter-house sports as we and our Red House teachers compiled and practised our House songs. We also started a chess club which met regularly – I’m not sure if it lasted after I left LHS.
At home, my Dad’s clandestine activities continued. He drove a conspicuous black and yellow Austin Cambridge, so he had it sprayed black by one of my cousins. I was involved in the after-spray smoothing and polishing with emory paper and water.
Many of the poorly paid teachers had extra jobs. Alie did some work as a real estate agent and had a set of fashion jewellery which he pedalled in the townships, using it as a pretext for his visits to the African townships to pursue the objectives of APDUSA. I must confess (for the first time ever) that I nicked a new brooch from his stash for my girlfriend. (Sorry CT, the inadvertent receiver of stolen goods!)
During the ongoing low-grade turmoil in the country, our teachers bore the brunt of police and State repression. In July 1963, the security police arrested two of our teachers – Neville Alexander and Lesley van der Heyden. In the Cape Times or Cape Argus of October 1963, there’s a photo of myself and several other LHS students standing outside the court where Neville and Lesley appeared on treason charges along with several others. ( A few of us would love a copy of that paper if you have one, please!!) Dulcie September, one of the accused, spent five years in prison. In March 1983, she was infamously assassinated in Paris in a police death squad hit when she was about to expose secret arms sales to South Africa.


Despite the gravity of the occasion, when we could not get into court, a few of us went to Hondjies’ (Mervyn Richards’) place, where we struck up in the backyard. Kenny Coetsee and Kenny Jeftha were the lead and rhythm guitarists, while I threw in a box-bass version to our drummer Eddy Thomas who is just visible to my left; he was the only one of the Fab Four who continued with real music in his LHS afterlife. Yes, we swapped our air guitars for garden tools. The chorus included Louis Miller, Abduraghman Ajam and Vernon Rustin and a few others. [Does anyone remember the Brownie box camera used to take this photo?]



One of our top teachers was Dr Nevil Alexander who had a doctorate from Germany. In my time he had a full crop of dark hair. He split from the Unity Movement and then APDUSA to set up the more militant Yu Chi Chan Club (later National Liberation Front – the NLF). Detained under the infamous Ninety-day Detention Law, he later spent ten years on Robben Island for treason. None of the NLF members had engaged in armed activity, but the judge deemed it possible they might do so based on their interest in guerrilla strategy. Following Neville’s release, he became a strong proponent of multilingualism and linguistic diversity in post-apartheid South Africa. (Part of the pre-democratic debate my exiled father participated in was whether Afrikaans would belong in the dustbin of history or not. And no, they did not discuss Afrikaaps!).
Leslie van der Heyden was banned on his release after five years on Robben Island. He taught me for a short period only. I could not find his photograph, but I have this image of Les as a handsome man with dark lips, a beautiful smile, sparkling eyes, and slightly curling eyelashes. He eventually went into exile in the UK. In the same trial, Doris and Elizabeth, Les’ sisters, were sentenced to five and ten years, respectively. There where few families with so many members caught up in the police dragnet in this fashion during a national State of Emergency with draconian powers. Lesley lived half a block from us in Dale Street, Lansdowne, and his sister-in-law was part of our student gang – she attended Trafalgar High School, another hornet’s nest for authorities. Lesley’s wife, Ursula, was the sister of Basil February, one of our earliest MK martyrs killed in a clash with Rhodesian forces while trying to infiltrate South Africa.
To be detained under the 90-Day Detention Law and released after a few days in prison was a sure sign that a detainee’s spirit had been broken. One such LHS staff member turned state witness against his colleagues Neville and Leslie. Before the trial, I found a dead rat which I placed on the offender’s table with a carton of Rattex. Only my supportive mother knew of my action. (I subscribed to Stalin’s comment – “trust no one, not even yourself”; also quoted by Che Guevara whose banned book did the rounds in those days, along with Das Kapital and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence.)


Despite being a giant in his time, Kenny Jordaan is the almost forgotten history teacher at LHS. Baruch Hirson (Marxist author detained for nine years for sabotage) stated that no other South African revolutionary matched Mr Jordaan’s political contributions. In one of his papers, Mr Jordaan wrote about how ‘Africans were nailed to the cross of gold.’ Jordaan fled South Africa in 1964 to avoid being called as a witness against the Alexander/van der Heyden group. Jordaan was accompanied by James April and Basil February. The younger James and Basil went to MK training camps, with Basil eventually killed in a 1967 skirmish with Rhodesian forces while the captured James spent fifteen years on Robben Island. The more senior Jordaan settled in London for a few years before returning to teach in Harare, where he died in 1988. I still regret that I did German instead of history, as Kenny Jordaan provided a Marxist interpretation of the subject. Maybe his ex-students could comment on this aspect of one of our less heralded LHS greats. The photo is of Kenny on the front steps of LHS with his sister, a Standard 6 teacher. Does anyone know her name? And what about the unknown student? Does his lapel badge symbolise his prefect status? I had one of those in my last year at school.( I was a head prefect who enjoyed bunking. On one occasion a number of us wanting to go to the movies, slipped through the window while Rotjie Reed conducted a Biology class!)
Most of our teachers’ non-racial mantras were contrary to government policy. For this, they were banned, imprisoned and tortured,and exiled for their political beliefs. Our alma mater probably had the country’s highest ratio of anti-establishment teachers. As students, we learned to question what the authorities wanted us to believe and to seek an alternative, the truth, and, ultimately, democracy. They were our life teachers and our mentors; above all, they were our heroes.
(A version of this blog is also available on the Livingstone High School Alumni Association on Facebook.)
(1964 – my final year at LHS, will follow later.)

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